TRANSCRIPT: INTERVIEW WITH KIERAN GILBERT, SKY NEWS AM AGENDA
TRANSCRIPTION: PROOF COPY E & OE
TOPICS: Defence Reviews; HMAS Farncomb.
KIERAN GILBERT: Mr Smith, why should Craig Thomson not give a statement to parliament.
STEPHEN SMITH: Well we've got two investigations underway. Firstly, you have a Fair Work Australia investigation. And secondly, you have every indication from the New South Wales Police that they will investigate the matter. Indeed, they've been called upon by George Brandis, the Shadow Attorney-General, and called upon by the union itself to investigate.
So in these circumstances it's entirely appropriate that we allow those investigations, in particular a police investigation, to take their course. And Mr Thomson has made it clear on a number of occasions that he denies these allegations. He's ascertaining his innocence. He's entitled to the presumption of innocence and I think it's very important that we allow the normal investigative processes to take their course.
KIERAN GILBERT: Do you believe him?
STEPHEN SMITH: Well everyone is entitled to the presumption of innocence and as my colleague Tony Burke says, when someone looks you in the eye and says these allegations are not true, you take that at face value. So he is entitled, as everyone is, including a Liberal Senator who is not just under allegations but has been charged by the police and will face a criminal trial, is entitled to the presumption of innocence.
And I'd just make this point about hypocrisy. We have been appropriately silent on the fact that a Liberal Senator has been charged with criminal offences. Now she is entitled to the presumption of innocence. She may well have a defence on the facts, or a defence in law, and we have been, as I've put it, respectfully silent about that, because one always needs to be very careful at the merging of political matters and judicial, or legal, or police enquiries.
KIERAN GILBERT: Is there some disappointment though, among your colleagues, that they were given reassurances by Mr Thomson - that he did look them in the eye; gave them reassurances - that would be the end of it and it wasn't the end of it.
STEPHEN SMITH: Well it's not for you or for me to make judgements about matters which will be the subject of investigation. He has maintained his position from day one, which is to strongly deny the allegations. He will have every opportunity, I assume, every opportunity to put his case in detail to either Fair Work Australia, or to the New South Wales Police, or both and that is as it should be.
KIERAN GILBERT: Is there - if there is a subsequent investigation, as we're anticipating, is it likely - you're a lawyer by training - is it likely that the legal course will probably run a couple of years anyway -
STEPHEN SMITH: Well -
KIERAN GILBERT: - up until, or beyond the next election?
STEPHEN SMITH: Well I've long been a lapsed lawyer and it's always good not to take your own legal advice. But I have made the [indistinct] I made it - made this point yesterday in the parliament, there will be appropriate investigative procedures and we should allow these processes to take their course. It's invariably the case, with investigations and with any judicial, or legal, or criminal procedures which follow - and that's a reference to the pending trial of the Liberal Senator - they always take longer than people first expect.
KIERAN GILBERT: Okay, well we'll wrap that up, the Thomson case, and talk about the reasons why we organised a chat anyway, and that is on the ADFA story. Apparently you want to extend the period that you've given investigators on this?
STEPHEN SMITH: Well, two issues. Firstly, there are - there is the ADFA or Skype matter saw me initiate a range of inquiries. One, is an inquiry being conducted by the Human Rights - through the Human Rights Commission, by the Sex Discrimination Commissioner, Miss Broderick. There is also a range of cultural enquiries. We're expecting that all of these will come to fruition or conclusion in the course of August-September, and the Chief of the Defence Force and the Secretary of the Department and I believe that we should try and deal with these all as one; to look at the suggestions for reform and progress those together. So they're in the area of cultural change and the like.
Secondly, we have the Kirkham Inquiry into the handling of the so-called Skype matter. Mr Kirkham, QC, has that inquiry in hand. I'm not putting a timetable on that. That's an official inquiry. He will report in due course.
The final one, which is very important, was a reference to the DLA Piper - of all of the allegations and complaints that came in following the publicity to the Skype affair, some thousand allegations or communications about defence and defence force conduct in the past. I initially set a timetable of the end of this month for an assessment of those allegations to be made. I met with DLA Piper earlier this week and I'm announcing later today that I've extended that timetable of that assessment until the end of September, simply because of the volume of work and the need for them to work methodically and carefully through all of these various allegations.
KIERAN GILBERT: Okay, so another month for that component. What about another issue of your responsibility is submarines. Further reports today of issues with the subs. What can you tell us on that?
STEPHEN SMITH: Well two things. Firstly, I announced, in the last month or so, that we would do a review of the maintenance and sustainment of our submarines. I've asked John Coles, a UK expert, to effect that review. I met him earlier this week, together with Defence Materiel Minister, Jason Clare; released the terms of reference. That work will now start and he'll report to me by April of next year.
We need to make our maintenance and sustainment more effective. We have to get our submarines into the water on a much more regular basis. Separately there was an incident in the last couple of days which had - with HMAS Farncomb. It was operating off the coast of Western Australia. It was at periscope level, so some 60 feet. Lost power for a period of time. Adopted standard procedures. Surfaced, power was restored. It was a technical fault in the engine. That's being repaired and we expect Farncomb to be back in the water in the very near future.
KIERAN GILBERT: Okay, Defence Minister Stephen Smith, appreciate your time. Thanks.
STEPHEN SMITH: Thank you. Thanks very much.